Some beginning cooks think that meat can be tenderized and made flavorful by soaking it in an oil-and-acid mixture. That's only part of it.
To be successful, marinades should have the right proportion of two key ingredients, which varies with the type used. More than that, the mixture should be well-spiced to improve the flavor.
A good salad oil, laced with herbs and spices, can give an ordinary cut of beef or lamb a gourmet flavor. And wine can tenderize a tough chuck steak enough to broil.
Heat Whole Spices Spices and herbs may be used whole or ground, but, to release their flavor, the whole ones should be heated briefly. Whole spices are easy to remove, incidentally, if the marinade is to be used later in a sauce.
Ground spices, which release their flavor more readily, can be used in cold marinades, which do not have to be heated.
The stronger spices, such as black pepper, bay leaf and cloves, are good in beef and lamb marinades. For chicken or turkey, pepper is usually combined with ginger, rosemary or tarragon. Marinades for seafood call for more aromatic herbs, such as dill, celery and fennel.
Vegetables, too, can be marinated. If you plan a salad with cooked green beans and potatoes, soak them in a mixture spiced with basil, marjoram and parsley flakes. A couple of hours should do it.
Timing the Marinade The cut of meat you are marinating dictates the time needed. Meat strips can be seasoned in a couple of hours, but a nine-pound roast should stand in the marinade at least 24 hours.
Wine is good in a marinade, but not essential. Wine vinegar is often substituted, and in the Middle East cooks have long used lemon juice in preparing the lamb dishes that are so popular in that part of the world.
Here is a marinade, popular in America's Southwest, that features wine vinegar.
MARINATED BEEF SHORT RIBS 3 pounds beef short ribs
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon warm water
3 tablespoons wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon instant minced onion
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Trim fat from meat, cut into serving-size pieces and place in bowl. Combine mustard with water in bowl. Let stand 10 minutes to develop flavor. Add vinegar, oil, onion, salt, pepper, chili powder, garlic and cayenne pepper. Pour over ribs. Turn ribs to coat with marinade. Cover and refrigerate 12 hours, turning once.
Remove ribs from marinade and place in roasting pan. Roast at 450 degrees 20 minutes. Remove from oven and pour marinade over ribs. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees. Cover ribs and roast about 1 hour or until meat is tender, basting with marinade occasionally. Makes 6 servings.